As an African American, and like many other of my family members I knew very little of my family's history. Not until I heard Alex Haley recall how he heard his aunts sitting on the porch, relate bits and pieces of family history did I too recall similar incidents. This along with stories my mother had told of the episode of a "sleep in" aboard the steamship "Sue" with the admonition, "if you don't believe me go and find out for yourself". There were other stories related to by my older brothers of their role model, our great uncle, Richard Johnson, telling stories of Indians shooting coins off fences with bows and arrows. It was then that I begin to realize there might be a challenge to "go and find out" for myself.
After an article appeared in a local newspaper explaining how to visit local historical societies and archives to research family history records, I decided to "go and find out". One amazing fact is how accurate the oral family history is that has been passed down. Thanks to the memory of Joseph Clayton Stewart Sr., Lillian Dowling, Nellie Harden, Harry Lee and other family members this information can now be shared with you. A special thanks to Lillian Stewart Johnson and the Pennsylvania family reunion committee members, Clara Stewart Henderson and the Virginia Family reunion committee members and Elizabeth Pinkney Harris, Thomas Pinkney and the Maryland family reunion committee members, and to everyone else who helped get these family histories to you.
Except for family oral accounts, my research did not find an original family member who came from Africa. This is not at all unusual because Maryland and Virginia did not import any slaves after the Revolutionary War and because the area in which the family served in slavery was first settled as early as 1648. As you read these family histories please note the many misconceptions being disproved; for example, note that the vast majority of the family members had first, middle and last names and that few if any had names such as Jupiter, Cicero, Isham, etc. Also remember that the official records were kept by whites who wrote whatever names they demanded the slaves have and not what names the slave parents gave the children. Where ever possible I tried to find middle names.
In 1884 the Stewart sisters, Lucy, Mary Winnie and Martha, staged a "sleep in" aboard the steamer "Sue" rather than sleep in a filthy sleeping cabin. Yet more than one hundred years later a revolution in civil rights is slowly in the process of seeking achievement, but those who allege that nothing has changed fail to understand the accomplishments of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. A movement in the 1960's in which family members Elizabeth and Dolores Pinkney manned picket lines to boycott stores which accepted our money yet refused to hire African Americans as sales clerks and not as porters; and a movement which supported Joseph and Hattie Stewart, Janet and Phillip Queenan and Naomi and George Robinson in their legal battle with a school district for denying their children a quality education. Among my other family histories related are those of Harvey Pinkney, a Tuskegee Airman, Louis H. Pinkney who was arrested for integrating Baltimore's tennis courts, Thomas T. Johnson, a runaway slave, Richard L. Johnson, a Buffalo Soldier, and Armstead T. Johnson, for whom a school was named. There also was a quest for the reestablishment of voting rights and a thrust for more Black political power.
"Nonetheless, by residence and schooling, we live lives that are almost as segregated today as they were 100 years ago" when the Stewart sisters boarded that steamship. However the present can be transformed in a positive direction if we study and recall our past, not for the purpose of suggesting guilt or holding on to old wrongs, but for the purpose of envisioning a new and just future. "Nothing characterizes American life as much as our sprawling ghettoes, with their invisible walls, and our mushrooming prisons, disproportionately African American, with their real walls."
J.C. Pinkney, Family Historian